I waffled big time about whether or not I wanted to sign up for this race. On the one hand, the timing worked out well. On the other hand, I could do a bike ride on Saturday. On the one hand, I’m very familiar with the course. On the other hand, there are a few hills in here. On the one hand, I did want to see how well I could run. On the other hand, meh.
Obviously, since you are reading this, I decided to run the Haunted 5k. I knew the festive environment would be a ton of fun, and I wanted to get a good idea of my fitness since I decided I wanted to break 21 minutes in a Turkey Trot in November. However, as usual, I felt less than confident, this time because I’ve been doing a lot of my runs by my office recently which means less built-in hill training. Still, I set a goal.
I wanted to hit 21:44. That would be a sub-7:00/mile pace and a pretty solid PR.
Based on my recent training paces, I felt that was feasible. I also felt like I could easily surprise myself and run faster than that or disappoint myself and run quite a bit slower than that. It just depended on the day and how I handled a course that was hillier than I’ve been running recently.
I picked up my number and swag bag on Friday afternoon. Because the race was associated with a larger half marathon that day, the swag and expo were excellent for a 5k. I got a long-sleeve t-shirt, a pair of knit gloves, and a few trinkets from the booths that were there, including a portable phone charger.
Rob and I watched a zombie movie (Juan of the Dead) to get into a spooky mood, and I went home and got to bed pretty early.
I woke up around 6:00am the next morning for the race at 9:00am. I like to give my body plenty of time to wake up before racing. I ate some cereal and a banana and had some coffee before heading out to the race site just before 8:00am. I got there and started my warmup up by running to the bathroom, checking out the finish line, and then running back to my car. It was the perfect fall morning.
I kept an eye out for Rob. He had tentatively planned on riding his bike out to the race that morning, but I had let him know it was a good race to skip. He loves Halloween, though, so I suspected I’d see him there sooner or later.
After I warmed up a bit, I headed over to a group of people congregating around the starting line. I realized with dismay that they were setting up the start line a good tenth of a mile behind the starting line indicated on the course map. I knew that the course map likely didn’t take tangents into account, but it seemed like a very long distance to make up for tangents in a measly 5k. I was worried that the course would be wrong and that I would miss setting a PR for a frustrating reason. Additionally, I knew that regardless of whether the course actually ended up being long, the extra tenth of a mile at the beginning of the race would seriously screw with the timing checkpoints I had set for myself. However, there wasn’t anything I could do, so I lined up with the idea that, in a worst-case scenario, I’d get in a really hard workout.
The race started, and I quickly settled into the position as first woman, running right behind a guy that was aiming for a 6:30/mile pace. I knew that was a too fast and tried not to keep up with him, but I got excited, and since I suspected my own timing checkpoints were useless, I stayed closer to him that I should have for the first part of the race. Sure enough, I reached my first timing checkpoint in about 1:45 instead of 1:07. Since I wasn’t running nine minute miles, I knew that the position of the starting line was to blame for the extra time. But again, it was what it was, so I tried to use the guy ahead me to pace myself. I slowed down some (still not enough) and let him slowly increase the gap.
After I settled into my pace in the first mile, a woman ran by me. She was running strong, and I could tell she was running comfortably, so I didn’t try to stay with her. Most of the first mile or so of the course is on slight incline, and I stayed right behind a young guy (who was probably in junior high or so). Not long before the first mile marker, we turned left onto a neighborhood road and started heading downhill. I naturally sped up and went past him. I tried to keep an easy pace downhill while still taking advantage of the free speed. Unfortunately, there was no first mile marker, so I still had no idea exactly how quickly I was running.
Throughout the second mile, it became more and more evident that I had started out too quickly. I held strong throughout the first half of the second mile, but even just halfway through the race, I was struggling. I knew I had slowed down some, but I tried to stay strong. I find when I’m tired in a race, thinking about my form or the “strength” of my stride is much more effective at keeping my pace up than thinking of running fast. This part of the race was a slight downhill, so that helped as well. During this part of the race, I was running alone. I could periodically hear someone not too far behind me, but there probably wasn’t anyone less than 30 seconds ahead of me.
I ran back into Sugarhouse Park right before hitting the two-mile mark. There was a mile marker for this mile, and I was surprised to see 13:5x on my watch as I passed it. I figured this meant that the race wasn’t going to be long after all and that I had a good chance at a PR. However, I was already struggling, and the idea of running another full mile (and then some) was tough. Oddly enough, I think at this point, seeing the mile marker actually hurt my mental state. I’ve run the loop around Sugarhouse Park dozens of times. Thinking of the literal road ahead of me that I had to run would have been more manageable than thinking of it as the measurement of one mile.
Still, I soldiered on. I was struggling with slight side aches on both sides and focused on my breathing to try to keep those side aches from hitting the level where they would affect my speed. The profile of the final mile was a fairly steep downhill section followed by a sharp uphill and then a gentle decline before turning onto the grass and finishing up cross-country style. I managed the downhill, though by that point, the jarring downhill wasn’t much more pleasant than a flat course.
Then I approached the hill. It’s not a horrible hill, but I was struggling as it was. There was a spooky tunnel right on the bottom of the hill that distracted me slightly, but then I had to face the music. I tried to power up the hill and not let it get to me. It certainly wasn’t as bad as the hill workout I had done a few weeks ago, but my quads were in rough shape by the time I reached the top. At that point, I was less than half a mile from the finish and knew I just needed to gut it out for about three more minutes.
Three minutes? No problem!
Those last three minutes hurt, but I kept pushing it. The final quarter mile or so of the course took us over the grass and through some spooky inflatable Halloween decorations. Just as I saw the finish, I heard someone coming up behind me. Let it be a guy! The kid I had passed around the first mile marker sprinted by me to finish just ahead of me. He had a stellar kick. I pushed through to the finish line a few seconds later. I saw the clock tick over to 21:44 just as I crossed the line, so I knew I was close to my goal, and since I had taken a second or so to cross the finish line, I suspected I had gotten it.
I managed to make it over to a curb of some sort and sat down. I was exhausted.
Suddenly, I heard someone behind me. “Good job, Goof!”
I turned around and saw Rob! (“Goof” is his nickname for me.) He had made it to the park after all. He had gotten there just in time to see me start, and had been able to see me finish up the race as well. We chatted for a moment, and I finally felt up to moving. So I walked out of the finisher’s area past some hot pizzas (pizza at 9:30 in the morning after a race?), and walked over to the results trailer to get my official results. I typed in my number, and the computer printed out a receipt. Second woman overall with a time of 21:42.1. The half marathon that was run along with the 5k attracted a lot of the more serious runners (the first woman in the half marathon ran a 1:18!), so I was able to make the overall podium for the first time ever.
After checking the results, Rob and I went and got my bag, which I had stashed next to a tree up near the starting line. Rob ended up riding home from there, and I went back to the finisher’s area to wait for the 5k awards.
It was a cool experience to have my name announced and to stand up on the podium with the first- and third-placed woman. Plus, the haul was pretty good for the size of the 5k field. I won a short-sleeve t-shirt with the same design as the long-sleeve one, a pink trucker hat, a thin windbreaker (that will be great for early or late season bike rides), and free entry into next year’s 5k.
I was pleased with my performance at the Haunted 5k, but it didn’t exactly build confidence that I can break 21 minutes in a less than a month at the Turkey Trot I plan on doing. However, I’ve got another three weeks of training time ahead of me, and I’ll have the advantage of a flat course and lower elevation in November. Plus, my older sister is going to pace me.* I feel like I have a good chance of setting another PR in a month, but I’m just not sure how big that PR will be.
Average pace- 6:59.1/mile
*I know it’s a little silly to get paced to a mediocre 5k PR, but she’s training for a 5k in mid-November, and we thought this race a couple weeks later would be a fun thing to do together. And since she’s way faster than me, the only way we’d actually be running the race together instead of just running the same race is if she paces me.